Interview by John Harrison
How long have you been living here Mr Ambassador?
I arrived on the 18th of August 2011. I was one of the last group of ambassadors to present my credentials to President Medvedev in December 2011.
How do you find Russians?
The Russians are very friendly towards us. I have not yet encountered any problems. My basic principal is to be friendly and then you will get lots of friendliness back. I donât think Russians are any different from Luxembourgiana; people are people. I do have a problem and that is that I donât speak the language very well although I have been studying it for two years. Communicating through a translator is always cumbersome. I think that people prefer to speak in their own language.
Do Russians know where Luxembourg is?
I was actually surprised to find out that most Russians have a pretty good idea where Luxembourg is. It seems that they have good geography lessons in the schools, but of course they wouldnât tell the Luxembourgian Ambassador if they did not know, as a matter of courtesy.
How do you find Russia?
For us, Russia is Europe. We were previously posted to China for 6 years, so when we arrived here it really was like coming back to Europe. Of course Russia is not the same as Western Europe, and Russia has a huge Asian part, but the basic culture is European, which is something I appreciate when I go to see a ballet here and listen to Tchaikovsky, for example. Of course you can get to see fantastic ballets in Shanghai these days, but Tchaikovsky is a Russian composer and you can certainly feel that, and feel the old traditional European culture when you are here. That doesnât mean that I think that Moscow is like Paris or London, as Europe is a very diverse and rich continent as far as culture goes. Italy for example is very different from Ireland.
Overall, the feeling that I had when I arrived here is that I had come back home to a European based culture.
Do you think that politics is determined by culture?
Partially yes, I think that they both influence each other, but culture does have a big influence on politics. Cultural perceptions do matter. You must always take into account the education and background of who you are speaking to. If I am communicating to a Russian lady of 70 years old, I have to remember that she may remember what it was actually like to live in Stalinist Russia, what a difference to me â who grew up in the Luxembourg of the 1970s, after the flower power revolution of the 1960s. This is something that makes the life of a diplomat very interesting as one has the chance to travel form country to country and from culture to culture.
What are the specifics of doing business in Russia?
When Russians want to come to a deal they are very fast. When they know what they want they try to achieve it without procrastinating. It is not a bad culture to do business in. When you are in Russia you have to be aware of the specifics of Russian culture, which is varied within itself. My former boss told me once that you are not a diplomat to teach. Leave that to teachers. If you are a diplomat, behave like one. I do not want to denigrate teachers, what would we expats do without our schools? Education for our children is probably one of the most important aspects of our lives, along with healthcare.
Is the cultural overlap between European countries enough to overcome the present tensions between European nations?
Europe has always been able to withstand pressure and it will be the same this time. We saw so many problems in the 20th century, but in the end we will see that cultural links are the strongest links.